The Real You.

Last week I wrote about the transformation that happens during service;  cooks stepping out of their own bodies as adrenaline and stress and heat took over.  A 7 hour ride, where the barest, most naked emotions came through.  A place where it was acceptable to cuss violently, but not acceptable to put up an ugly plate.  It made me start to think about all the cooks i've worked with over the years--cokeheads, stress cases, alcoholics, amatuers, and in rare instances bad ass pros.  It was this mix of personalities that made me start to wonder:  Who was it that I was seeing?  Is the person in the kitchen, in the heat of service the real "you"?  Or is it some amalgam of emotion and circumstance and experience?

Let's take Jake for instance.  Jake was a 4 year vet of the industry.  He could throw down on sautee like a four star pro.  I never saw him freak out.  I did see him do an excessive amount of cocaine, and i'm not sure that he ever started a shift without smoking a blunt in his car.  Who was I really seeing?  Outside of the kitchen he was boisterous and loud--a mysoginistic borderline racist that loved Mac Dre and never hesitated to instigate a fight.  In the kitchen, intoxicated as he may have been, he seemed to find some kind of peace...even if that peace manifested itself in an aggressive way.

There was also Sergio.  Sergio was mostly quiet--a polite, soft spoken cook from the hills near Guadalajara.  He made cooking look so easy.  I would show him a new technique that I could barely grasp myself, and he had it down two plates later.  He was also an astonishingly functional alcoholic.  There were some nights where he would come to me and ask for booze--which then left me with the choice of enabling his behavior and having a smooth service, or trying to "help" him and watching things go down in flames.  Something strange happened away from the kitchen though:  the drinking continued, but his humanity slipped away.  He became shy, cranky, and angry.  I started to look forward to seeing him intoxicated at work.

And then there's me.  Who was I when I was on the line back then?  I remember being scared and humiliated and confident and cocky.  As my skill set grew, it seemed like my social skills were retreating.  Was cooking making me into some sort of J.D. Salinger-esque recluse?  The first time my beard grew all the way out I freaked and shaved it and my head--which probably ended up making me look far crazier than I had before.  I became so deeply obsessed with cooking and kitchen life that I found myself feeling shy around my own friends.  If we weren't talking about food, what were we supposed to talk about?

Cooking does strange things to people.  The person that you think you are and the person that others see is rarely one and the same.  Everyone has a dark side; and a lot of times it's hard for a cook to distinguish between that dark side and themselves.  Some cooks find sanctuary in the kitchen.  It's their place to let all of their problems and concerns slip away and just focus on something that they love.  Other times the kitchen becomes a place for like minded misfits to plan their next criminal enterprise.  What's it like in your kitchen.  Who is the real you?

  • my to-do list is never done
  • stop playing it safe
  • wow the podcast was rowdy this week
  • when it's nice in SF, you will see some very pale people wearing very little clothing
  • one gibraltar is never enough
  • the nopalito 3* review is out.  i won 2$
  • my stolen iphone is back.  good triumphed evil
  • losing your parking ticket will end up being very expensive
  • pearl jam's 10 on rock band.  it's mastered very strangely
  • i keep seeing more and more blogs with notes and quotes on them.  interesting
  • according to twitter, the cooks had to dump their asahi's, and eddie almost choked to death this weekend

quotes and conversations:

Me:  Hey Ponder, do you have onions that aren't the same color as the panties you're wearing?
Merrell:  That's funny, because i'm wearing pink underwear today.  Wanna see?
Me:  Yep.  Those are the same color.

"Any girl that I know does NOT look that clean.  Except my girlfriend."
-Goose.  Knows dirty girls.

"I could move to New Mexico.  And be a New Mexican."

"I like when you call me senor."
-Edward.  Likes to be called senor.

Al:  Corey, I had a dream and you were in it.
Corey:  Was it about me laughing at your Gucci wallet?

Hui:  I want to get a taco truck, do dumplings out of it, soup...
Corey:  You could call it dump truck.

Me:  You might say Paulie is the Ray Charles of flatbread making.
Corey:  Why, because it looks like a blind dude made em?

Me:  Ponder, what should we do with Violet's burger?
Ponder:  Well, I left my dildo upstairs in my locker, so...

Me:  You've got an artichoke.
Goose:  Hey...
J-Lo:  I got it.
Goose:  You got it?
J-Lo:  Yeah, i've been doin it all night you fuckin puto.

Me:  Ponder, if you do a Joey from Blossom again, i'll stab you in your asshole.
Ponder:  I said that then immediately regretted it.

from top:  carbonara, al, pork jus, no pancetta?, merrell's milkshake according to violet blue, seriously?, dont put all yout eggs in one basket, my knife sticks, baby danger, ricotta, pancetta @ 30+ days, beer at joes, instructions, linden, al when he was in danzig, stolen iphone comes home ftw.


Chef in Progress said...

how often do you sharpen your knife that it gets stuck in the board

Nothing Too Fancy... said...

My husband is also a social retard.LOL He says he spends so much time in a kitchen that it's difficult for him to switch back to socially acceptable conversation.LOL

Matt said...

"If we weren't talking about food, what were we supposed to talk about?"

i find myself thinking like this more and more...and the answer is sex...but aside from that there isn't much...also i think i may be reading this blog far too much as i have now integrated "boning down" into my vocabulary..I even use it with my girlfriend which she finds hilarious...I would like to thank you and your crew for expanding my vocabulary

on the subject of different personalities inside and out of the kitchen I am definitely quite different. Outside the kitchen I am one of the shyest people I know, generous and kind to a fault. In the kitchen I am way too outgoing for my own good, bordering on and frequently managing to be too obscene, usually eliciting a "shut the fuck up Matthew" from whoever I am talking to. I find solace in the fact I can turn out a pretty decent sorbet and desserts.

keep up the awesome entries and podcasts!

takeyourtime said...

authentic me? i think the kitchen is where i leave a lot of my individuality behind, which can be a blessing. instead, i think about the kitchen and its mission and that engages me for my shift. my own personal meandering thoughts, concerns, plans and insecurities don't disappear entirely, but they're much easier to dismiss. i can't worry about that right now, gotta cook. though i'm not a functional alcoholic like your guadalaharan friend, i'm generally more functional in kitchens than anywhere else in my life, so in that respect i can relate. i do get shy outside of the kitchen, less sure of myself in a world where i'm not expected to communicate assertively and move with finesse and precision

the kitchen is where i get to perform skillfully AND still hang on to all my psychic bullshit that doesn't fly so much in my 'real-world' relationships and, i imagine, many other fields of work. and its kinda scary, but i know that i can advance in this field despite not growing personally, because i can just "shelve it" and forget that i feel depressed until after work.

i get why this industry attracts so many folks with significant emotional / substance issues. everything is so fucking urgent in the kitchen, you trick yourself into thinking that your life actually hinges on how well you perform. boom, welcome to the present moment, enjoy your stay, pray that the dinner rush holds out. sure beats the hell outta beating yourself up.

don't touch my knife said...

The real me is something the mass populace finds unacceptable. I've called myself trying other career pathes than this and all have resulted in social grease fires. Making the switch from ass whomping "i will fuck you up if you take anymore of my towels" linecook to cuddly boyfiend/girlfriend or even upstanding citizen can be a bitch.
i find that people in this industry tend to be unable to explain the satisfaction they get from a good service or even picking up a knife and approaching a board. there is a confidence that exudes from me when behind a stove that exists no where else. when i'm rested and my knives are sharpened and ive got a 2 litre of Fresca in my meez and i'm ready and i'm fucking crunk. that is a feeling i only get from cooking. in public i'm just a really big, rude, un-explicably difficult mother-fucker who has problems dealing with authority and those outside of this family of outcasts.
i believe Bourdain said it best.
"this is an industry that tends to draw in the 'fringe elements' of society." And despite the fact that somehow suddenly its "cool" to be a coke head, paint sniffing barely functioning social pariya who just happens to know how to wield a Global or sous vide a duck breast, i still love the life i lead. when it comes down to it for us there are cooks; and then there is everybody else.

kelly said...

yay! nopalito! so exciting!

theculinaryaddict said...

I want to publicly state I have started using 'notes' on my blog after reading how effective they have been on the 'line cook'. I find many applicable 'notes' arise while working on a post, past and present, that don't make it onto the post at hand. Similar to food, everything is stolen. Thanks, theculinaryaddict

Kingston said...

Loyal follower of your blog. Went to nopa for the first time this past Sunday. The food and service was excellent! Laurence came by our table and introduced his son to mine. Wanted to say "hi" to you but you looked busy and in the zone. Oh well, next time...

jondis said...

nice to see j.lo made the notes. Cheers.

ybinin said...